Why would anyone plunge $4 million into a dream house, landscape it with a Japanese garden and frog pond, and never bother to light it?
You might say that lighting designer Constantinc Pergantis is in the dark about this—about how any homeowner could ignore the dramatizing power of a couple of low-wattage bulbs. After all, he says, outdoor lighting is "the finishing touch to the castle." All you need is a supply of 50-wall bulbs. Pergantis, 26, discovered this while working as a sales rep for a lighting manufacturer. As the story goes, after two years of traveling and giving seminars for designers on how his products might be used, it occurred to him that he could make more money on his own. Since then, he's shed light on nearly 100 homes, including David Brinkley's and Patrick Ewing's.
For the most part, Nite Lites installs outdoor lighting; Pergantis does only about 25 percent of his work inside. He explains that outdoor lighting is to the 1990s what track lighting was to the '70s and recessed lighting was to the '60s: "line next big thing." That today’s outdoor lights are safe, efficient and a necessary security measure are points he makes while negotiating a curve on Potomac's Sorrel Drive. On either side of the street, there are strings of Tudors, medieval castles and Georgian mansions that, only minutes after their owners roll into the driveways, will be shrouded in darkness. Except for the home of Rosalie and Anthony St. George, who hired Nite Lights to light their home.
As Pergantis approaches the end of the cul-de-sac, a giant blue spruce emerges from a pool of calm white light in the middle of the St. George property ("You should see what it looks like after it snows," he says). On either side of the house, two red Japanese maples bask in a subtle glow. To the right is a children's playground, equipped with picnic table and swing and lighted safely for an after-dark game of hide-and-seek. Along a sandstone path that the St. George grandchildren call the "yellow brick road" to the back yard, Pergantis has strategically lighted not quite every other bush.
"You don't want to make the house look like it's for sale by lighting everything," he says. "I help people pick out what's most interesting." Out in the back yard, the interesting touches Pergantis singled out include the Colorado spruces bordering the yard, a handful of shrubs dotting the hilly bank and some neatly pruned trees in individual ceramic pots. Although several fluorescent lights illuminate the patio's edge, the space exudes cozy elegance, thanks to a warm glow from Tudorstyle post lights evoking gas-lit London. And, for practicality's sake, Pergantis has strung fixtures from the spruces to flood the basketball court with up to 900 watts. St. George, an engineer and retired Navy contractor, says the many gawkers give him a sense of personal satisfaction.
"I admit it," he says. "I love it when people drive by and stop to ooh and aah and come back again to see it at night." Indeed, the attractive fixtures—the patio lights and the small oxidized metal lights surrounding a potted tree—also call attention to themselves.
For the St. George house, Pergantis used three types of lighting. The path lighting, small 2-watt fixtures, cast a subtle glow leading to the home's entrance. Flood lighting, but hardly the variety used by SWAT teams, is a gentle way of highlighting trees and comes in cool—light blue or warm—yellowish tones. Finally, area lighting accents a flower bed or rock garden—the landscaper's crown jewels. These days, as Anthony St. George surveys his lighting designer's work, he says he is pleased. "I think the house came out magnificently," he says, "without it looking like a hotel or the world's fair.